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Here is an excerpt from a great piece from Wyndham Wallace of The Quietus on how the music industry is killing music and blaming the fans. This rather dark opinion is spot on in so many ways and raises some very difficult questions about the future of the music business that most people do not want to talk about.

“All the time the industry talks of money: money it’s lost, money it’s owed. It rarely talks about the effects upon artists, and even less about how music itself might suffer. But no one cares about the suits and their bank accounts except shareholders and bankers. People care about their own money, and the industry not only wanted too much of it but also failed to take care of those who had earned it for them: the musicians. And it’s the latter that people care about. Because People Still Want Good Music.”

“In March this year, for instance, the RIAA – the Recording Industry Association of America – and a group of thirteen record labels went to court in New York in pursuit of a case filed against Limewire in 2006 for copyright infringement. The money owed to them – the labels involved included Sony, Warner Brothers and BMG Music – could be, they argued, as much as $75 trillion. With the world’s GDP in 2011 expected to be around $65 trillion – $10 trillion less – this absurd figure was, quite rightly, laughed out of court by the judge. The RIAA finally announced in mid May that an out of court settlement for the considerably lower sum of $105 million had been agreed with Limewire’s founder.”

What is questionable about all of this is exactly how much of the settlement of $105 million will flow to the musicians, songwriters and producers whose work was the subject of the infringement to begin with. In previous settlements including Napster ($270 million), Bolt ($30 million), Kazaa ($130 million) and MP3.com ($100 million) it is unclear how much, if any, of the money received by the labels ever reached the pockets of the artists. I have yet to see an accounting of this and many managers I have spoken with have simply laughed when I asked the question if they ever received any payment from these settlements. I suppose that proceeds from litigation may be considered recoupable costs.

“But if the industry wants to talk money, let’s talk money, albeit the ways that developing musicians are encouraged to make up the loss of sales income in order to ply their trade. Someone’s got to bring this up, because it’s not a pretty picture. Consider, first, direct-to-fan marketing and social networking, said to involve fans so that they’re more inclined to attend shows, invest in ‘product’, and help market it. In practise this is a time-consuming affair that reaps rewards for only the few. Even the simple act of posting updates on Facebook, tweeting and whatever else is hip this week requires time, effort and imagination, and while any sales margins subsequently provoked might initially seem higher, the ratio of exertion to remuneration remains low for most. It’s also an illusion that such sales cut out the middlemen, thereby increasing income, except at the very lowest rung of the ladder: the moment that sales start to pick up, middlemen start to encroach upon the artist’s territory, if in new disguises. People are needed to provide the structure through which such activities can function, and few will work for free – and nor should they – even though musicians are now expected to.”

“Still, if an act can find time to do these things, or has the necessary capital to allow others to take care of them on their behalf, then they can hit the road. Touring’s where the money is, the mantra goes, and that’s the best way to sell merchandise too. But this is a similarly hollow promise. For starters, the sheer volume of artists now touring has saturated the market. Ticket prices have gone through the roof for established acts, while those starting out are competing for shows, splitting audiences spoilt for choice, driving down fees paid by promoters nervous about attendance figures. There’s also a finite amount of money that can be spent by most music fans, so if they’re coughing up huge wads of cash for stadium acts then that’s less money available to spend on developing artists. And for every extra show that a reputable artist takes on in order to make up his losses, that’s one show less that a new name might have won.”

“Touring is also expensive. That’s why record labels offered new artists financial backing, albeit in the form of a glorified loan known as ‘tour support’. Transport needs to be paid for, as do fuel, accommodation, food, equipment, tour managers and sound engineers. These costs can mount up very fast, and if each night you’re being paid a small guarantee, or in fact only a cut of the door, then losses incurred can be vast, rarely compensated for by merchandising sales. Again, financial backing of some sort is vital, but these days labels are struggling to provide it. In the past, income from record sales could be offset against these debts, but with that increasingly impossible, new artists will soon find it very hard to tour. Everyone’s a loser, baby.”

From Beck’s ‘Loser’

Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Banned all the music with a phony gas chamber
‘Cause one’s got a weasel and the other’s got a flag
One’s got on the pole shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose job
The daytime crap of a folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string

Soy un perdidor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(Know what I’m sayin?)

“Whether the industry likes it or not, music is now like water: it streams into homes, it pours forth in cafés, it trickles past in the street as it leaks from shops and restaurants. Unlike water, music isn’t a basic human right, but the public is now accustomed to its almost universal presence and accessibility. Yet the public is asked to pay for every track consumed, while the use of water tends to be charged at a fixed rate rather than drop by drop: exactly how much is consumed is less important than the fact that customers contribute to its provision. Telling people that profit margins are at stake doesn’t speak to the average music fan, but explaining how the quality of the music they enjoy is going to deteriorate, just as water would become muddy and undrinkable if no one invested in it, might encourage them to participate in the funding of its future. So since downloading music is now as easy as turning on a tap, charging for it in a similar fashion seems like a realistic, wide-reaching solution. And just as some people choose to invest in high-end water products, insisting on fancy packaging, better quality product and an enhanced experience, so some will continue to purchase a more enduring musical package. Others will settle for mp3s just as they settle for tap water. Calculating how rights holders should be accurately paid for such use of music is obviously complicated but far from impossible, and current accounting methods – which anyone who has been involved with record labels can tell you aren’t exactly failsafe – are clearly failing to bring in the cash.”

“The problem is, it’s not really the industry that is being cheated. It’s the artists and their fans. People get what they pay for, but – whatever the industry claims – most fans know that. They just don’t want to hear the businessmen fiddle while the musicians are being burnt. Revenues are unlikely ever again to reach the levels of the business’ formerly lucrative glory days, but in its stubborn refusal to recognise that both the playing field and the rules themselves have been irreversibly redefined without their permission, the industry is holding out for something that is no longer viable. Lower income is better than no income, and the industry has surely watched the money dwindling for long enough. Musicians, meanwhile, are being asked to make more and more compromises as they’re forced to put money ahead of their art on a previously unprecedented scale.”

Read the whole ugly story here at The Quietus.

The comments alone tell the sad story of the state of affairs in the music industry today.

Believe it or not, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Recording Industry Association of America have announced that they want new digital  devices like cellphones, iPods and music players to be legally required to incorporate FM radio receivers.  This appears to be a twisted bargain to get the radio broadcasters to agree to pay performance royalties for radio airplay to the record companies, in exchange for propping up their business models via legislation.  How bizarre.

As reported in Arstechnica, “Congress should mandate that FM radio receivers be built into cell phones, PDAs, and other portable electronics.

Radio broadcasters and music labels are at each other’s throats over the question of whether radio ought to pay performance rights to labels or artists when it plays their music on the air (currently, only songwriters get paid, not artists or labels). A bill percolating in Congress, the Performance Rights Act, would rationalize performance rights in the US; satellite radio and webcasters currently pay full performance fees to labels or artists, but radio does not, thanks to a longstanding exemption in copyright law.The bill has already passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, but it is vigorously opposed by the broadcasters; they argue that radio provides valuable promotion to artists and shouldn’t have to pay. Congress tried to force two of the main lobbying groups, the National Association of Broadcasters and musicFIRST (RIAA is a member), to hash out a solution last November. None was forthcoming, but talks have continued since then and are now close to completion.The two sides hope to strike a grand bargain: radio would agree to pay around $100 million a year (less than it feared), but in return it would get access to a larger market through the mandated FM radio chips in portable devices.”As regards the chip, this is a key issue for the radio industry,” musicFIRST told Ars today. “musicFIRST, too, likes FM chips in cell phones, PDAs, etc. It gives consumers access to more music choices.”

As the contours of this deal came into sight last week, the consumer electronics companies saw the prospect of a new government mandate, and one that was transparently about propping up a particular (and aging) business model.

“The performance royalty legislation voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee does not include this onerous and backward-looking radio requirement,” said the CEA’s Shapiro, and he wants to keep it that way.

The deal has not been finalized, we’re told. When it is, the two sides still need to convince Congress to go along, but they’re hopeful something can be wrapped up late this year or early in 2011.

The Consumer Electronics Association, whose members build the devices that would be affected by such a directive, is incandescent with rage. “The backroom scheme of the [National Association of Broadcasters] and RIAA to have Congress mandate broadcast radios in portable devices, including mobile phones, is the height of absurdity,” thundered CEA president Gary Shapiro. Such a move is “not in our national interest.”

“Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do.”

But the music and radio industries say it’s a consumer-focused proposition, one that would provide “more music choices.”

Please.

Hypebot has lampooned this absurdity with it’s own list of “Top 10 Government Mandates Needed to Save Us.”

  1. All Videogames Come Bundled With Top 40 Albums: The RIAA would like you to believe the number one threat to the profitability of the record and music industries is file-sharing, but I think there’s another industry that deserves a little attention. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold ten million copies in the US alone. That money could’ve been spent on albums. Let’s lobby and make it so every videogame sold is bundled with Rihanna & Lady Gaga’s latest album. Hey gamers, it’s only fair.
  2. iTunes & Amazon Can Only Sell Physical Albums: Think about it, digital singles are cannibalizing the sales of full and physical albums. If we could only get a bill passed that forces iTunes to sell only physical albums. Fans should be forced to enjoy music the way that artists intended it to be consumed and this whole idea of them having their personalized music experience needs to go away. I’m sick of fans thinking they can just cherry-pick the songs they want and never hear the other ten songs on the album. This bill needs to get passed now.
  3. MTV Must Play Music Videos During Mandated Hours: I am sick of all this reality TV junk and I bet you are too. Ever since they stopped playing our videos sales have fallen through the floor. Once we get The Hills off the air and Ke$ha’s new video back in solid rotation, fans will have no choice but to get back to watching our expensive productions. I bet we can even get Carson Daly back. Without him, no one wants to buy music anymore. To make sure our music is playing during prime hours the record industry must have jurisdiction over their programming.
  4. Music Downloaders Must Be Downgraded To Dial-Up: Screw this three strikes business, let’s just throw those evil pirates back to the stone-age and throttle every suspected pirate, as determined by our monitoring systems that we got installed on all 5 billion of net enabled devices, back to dial-up internet speeds. If they think they can steal our content then they can also wait 10 minutes for the email and Facebook to load. Who’s file-sharing my music now Mr. 28k connection? BAM!
  5. Big Towns Must Have Record Stores: Wide-spread file-sharing has decimated the profits of our record stores and forced them to close their doors. All those pirates on dial-up are going to need to buy music somewhere. I say we make it so there’s a government mandate that forces record stores to be placed across the street from Starbucks Coffee Shops in every town that has a population of over 250,000.  In the event that there is already another Starbucks across the street from the other Starbucks, our record store will be placed to the left of the shop in question.
  6. Guitar Hero, One Real Guitar For Each Fake Controller: Seriously, who do these punk college students and videogame developers think they are? Interacting with music using plastic pieces of junk; these kids need to get a life and learn how to play real music, with real instruments. I’m convinced that the only way we can ensure profitability of GuitarCenter and make sure that these varmints don’t destroy our cultural history with their little white flippers and colored buttons is if we make it so every fake Guitar Hero controller comes with a real guitar too.
  7. The Music Blog Network & Pay Wall:  All music blogs must be forced to join a subscriber network and be put behind a pay wall. If users want to read to their amateur content and get DRM encrypted, virus laden MP3 files, then, they must pay money to have access to that content. It’s only fair. They work hard to write about music and they are entitled to money if you want to read their blog.  Also, with every single subscription to the music blog network users must also opt into a year’s worth of either Rolling Stone or Spin; it’s time they learn what real music journalism is and stop getting advice from talentless strangers, failed musicians, and their college dorm buddy who thinks he’s a hipster, but really isn’t.
  8. Resale Is Prohibited, No More Used CDs: Fans should not, I repeat, fans should not be able to buy music for half price at some local store run by a hippie. We need to put a stop to this and make it so the resale of albums is prohibited. To ensure that fans are receiving the optimum experience that we intended them to have we need mandate them to buy new CDs every time. For years, fans have been buying music from these places that smell like pot and incense sticks. They buy an album and they go home and all it does is skip because of how scratched it is.  No more used CDs. Period. New music sounds better anyways.
  9. Ticket Sales Combined With Albums Sales: Fans already pay 20 different fees when they purchase a ticket to see live music so why not add a surcharge on their that they understand. The album fee. For every single show that a fan attends they will now be mandated to buy the album too. The artists work really hard on their records and live music should not be considered a substitute for professionally produced music.
  10. Home Recording & Music Production Is Outlawed: Those amateurs and indie musicians thought they were clever when they started producing music in their homes and not getting it mastered at a recording studio. With all those fly-by-night music schools that graduate sound engineers by the hundred we need to guarantee that those students, who paid good money, have jobs when they get out of college. This will also have the effect of making artists dependant of the major label system to fund the recording of their music and drastically increase the quality of all music in general. All that stuff on YouTube sounds terrible, let’s fix that.

A friend just sent over this post on how the newly elected Chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association,  said that illegal P2P filesharing is the greatest challenge facing entertainment retailers and urged members to lobby Government for a crackdown on a problem he said “is bleeding our industry dry”.

Speaking at the association’s annual general meeting, Quirk said, “Too often the debate over illegal filesharing is portrayed as an ideological battle, but for us this is a commercial matter. Illegal filesharing is damaging our businesses, both physical and digital, on a daily basis, and the Government needs to tackle it swiftly and decisively in order to protect jobs, businesses and investment.

“First the filesharers targeted the music business and the Government did nothing. Now the filesharers have come again for TV and movies. Unless action is taken the filesharers will come for computer games, books, in fact anything which can be digitised and what will be at stake will be not just the entertainment industry but huge swathes of the UK economy. We need action now.”

Read more of this insanity here at Mi2N

Well now…

I was visiting with my Dad last weekend and thought of an interesting parallel between digital music and encyclopedias.

When I was a kid, my father had a summer job going door to door selling Comptons Encyclopedias.  He would carry a couple of these huge books under his arms and try and get the husband or wife to buy the complete Comptons collection for the kids.  This was big business and my dad made a healthy living during the summer.

Well, over the years the encyclopedia book business began to dry up.  To start it all off, Comptons put their entire encyclopedia library on a CD-ROM and sold it via a new company they formed, called Comptons New Media.  They put the CD-ROM in a chipboard box and sold it at Comp-USA,  Software Etc and other retailers for $200-$300.  It became big business for a while in the early 1990’s, and Comptons New Media flourished and was eventually purchased by the Tribune Co for a lot of dough.

It didn’t take long before some hackers cracked the CD-ROM and then pirated versions of the whole enchilada began making their way into stores and online outlets.  By now, of course, the multi-volume Comptons Encyclopedia Book business had gone the way of the dinosaur, and countless pavement pounding salespeople were no longer going door to door selling encyclopedias – and the entire book business basically went away.  Gone in a matter of a few years.  I think they still sell some to schools somewhere.

The same thing soon happened to Comptons New Media as digital competitors emerged, from Microsoft “Encarta” and others, and soon price competition and the internet gave way to this information moving online for free.

Now we have something called “Wikipedia”.

The information contained in the encyclopedias is still being researched and published and edited by now, tens of thousands of people who put it online in a living, dynamic format.  By and large, no one is getting directly paid to do this work, yet no-one can dispute the fact that society in general is benefiting from Wikipedia and other community-based information resources.  You might even notice that there is a lot more information being produced and updated and cross referenced than ever before.  This is all without the infrastructure of the past (ie Comptons) being in-place anymore, and almost no money changing hands.

Just like Comptons, the record industry digitized all of its assets and put the entire thing out there for the public to enjoy.  And just like Comptons the record industry in now suffering from price erosion, shifting formats and piracy.  They can try and hang in there and bash the problem away with legislation, or they could seriously consider other methods of delivery and renumeration, or they could sell off their remaining assets and shut down.  No matter what, the game they have played is over, caput.  Time to face the music and change.

There are no guarantees in business that things will remain the same.  Indeed, the only real constant is change and businesses that try and hold onto the past will be crushed by their own weight and failure to adapt, or in some cases, to just shut down.  Nothing is forever except change.  People should stop complaining about it and start working on creating a future that benefits us all.

Do I know exactly what that future is going to be?  Of course not.  I wish I could say with certainty but I can’t – for now.  But I think it will look a lot more like wikipedia than comptons encyclopedia sets.

THe RIAA is claiming to be ready for a change of strategy, trading the hammer it has been using to sue individual file sharers – for kind of a hired gun. I think the strategy the RIAA is outlining is better than their previous position, though not the ultimate solution that I think we will end up with. Nevertheless, this is movement in the right direction.

“The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. The legal offensive did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music and it created a public-relations disaster for the record industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

The RIAA now plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send a series of emails to the provider when it finds a provider’s customers making music available online for others to take.”

Number one – lets see if this actually happens, and

Number two – lets hope the ISPs will see first-hand the value in obtaining blanket licenses to permit the trading of music files online, rather than becoming the hired thug of the music industry…

Read the whole Wall Street Journal article here.